I mentioned before the importance of honoring the people you work with, the members of your community. All the members of your community. This is an issue that was raised in the early church in James 2 (remember the brothers and sisters who showed favoritism to those with gold rings and ignored the ones with shabby clothes?) and continues to be an issue today – whether because of appearance, wealth, power, race, language, gender, sexual orientation. There are several lessons to be learned:
Three fundamental values guide my community work. This post focuses on the first: Respect.
I talk a lot about respect with my young children, and the two things I hear myself repeating to them throughout the day are 1) listen well and 2) honor each other. I find that these equally apply to community work. I would say at least 75% of community engagement work is deep listening. It is a skill that I have honed through getting to know the community, knowing what questions to ask and who to ask them of, and then listening for opportunities for connection and growth.
Community engagement works towards community change. But, what exactly is that change? What does it look like? Who does it affect? How do you get there?
For as many people as you ask, that many answers you will receive. The same goes for churches. Each has its specific missional focus and flavor. One thing about Midwestern living is the number of churches, which means that (when done well) different churches can utilize the skills, talents, and passions in its congregation to support different aspects of social and communal life. In a city where a single block may house four different churches, one may have a food pantry, another a monthly community meal and baby pantry, another an afterschool program, and yet another provides work in exchange for gift cards or bill pay.
Four different churches. Four different programs.
They can work in silo. Or, they can work together to more effectively serve the community in which they reside.
That is community engagement with churches. It is all about building relationship and working together with other churches and organizations, and through those relationships transforming the world.
Community engagement is not simply a series of steps to carry out. I prefer to approach community work as a set of fundamental values, that, however you define the intended outcomes and the activities to reach them, guide the work. They include:
Ruth M. Smith
Community arts educator and researcher. Drinking coffee. Home educating. Making art. Listening intentionally.